STAR India’s digital video streaming platform, hotstar, has introduced a paywall for select content, starting the weekend gone by.
The move comes in tandem with American entertainment house HBO premiering the first episode of the sixth season of its widely popular (and pirated in India) show, Game of Thrones. At Rs 199 a month, with the first month free as trial, users can now access premium HBO Originals content on the app.
STAR India had acquired the rights to HBO’s original content (including Game of Thrones) last year, but had not made it available on hotstar till Sunday . The network refrained from commenting on the development. This is the first time STAR India has charged for any content, despite having robust offering for live sports, including ICC events in cricket, the Indian Premier League, Pro Kabaddi League, International Premier Tennis League, Hockey India League and the Indian Super League.
Experts observe the decision to charge for HBO premium content could be led by the target audience and its profile. “One of the biggest questions people were asking is why being such a big platform and network, STAR is not charging for any of the content. It’s obvious they wanted to start the paywall for those who consume premium content. My guess is, the people targeted for the HBO Originals content will overlap with those who are willing to pay for Netflix,” says a media executive.
The HBO Originals library currently has 31 shows with a varying number of seasons each and the Rs 199-a-month subscription opens up the entire content portfolio to the user. Titles include shows such as Vinyl, Ballers, Newsroom and The Wire. Until now, STAR India was using the new HBO Originals content on the STAR World Premiere HD television, while older content such as the first five seasons of Game of Thrones was available on STAR World and STAR World HD.
The users of hotstar started receiving notifications on Sunday about the availability of the sixth season’s premiere episode of Game of Thrones.
Upon opening the app, users can see content tagged ‘premium’, which leads to the one-month free trial prompt. A simple registration follows and the library is open to the user once the credit card details have been submitted. Apart from providing access to HBO’s premium content simultaneously with the US telecast, the availability of Game of Thrones and other shows by HBO means viewers can now access uncensored episodes on hotstar.
TV viewers can still catch the current season, though 36 hours later and censored, on STAR World Premiere HD. Hotstar’s tariff is somewhere in the middle with Netflix subscription starting at Rs 500 a month, while others such as Eros now charge Rs 49 and upwards for select content.